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Six Sigma Without Management Support September 24, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, Process engineering, Quality.
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Early in my career I routinely signed up for on-site classes and workshops designed to teach some new methodology to improve our management of people or projects. I remember returning to my work group afterwards, always eager to put my lessons into practice, but often struggling against the real world that turned out to be indifferent or even resistant. I was usually able to integrate some element from the class into my evolving personal philosophy of management, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

However, it never seemed that the company was getting a very good return on the training cost. My manager typically didn’t attend the same class, and neither did most of my peers, so I was usually left on my own to figure out how to implement the new methodology. I don’t recall ever getting any follow-up or support after the class, or any verification that my performance had somehow improved as a result.

I was thinking about all this the other day when I read an article emphasizing the importance of management support when working on a six-sigma project. Obviously any change management or process improvement initiative can be undermined by lack of executive sponsorship, especially if there’s a cost associated with the change. What’s surprising (to me) is why some organizations would create an army of change agents by investing in training and certifying green belts and black belts, and then be surprised when these people want to actually change things.

Certainly implementing change requires management support, but that support should already be secured when the improvement project is first proposed and approved, if not earlier. Black belts and green belts shouldn’t be left alone to figure out where and when to apply their training. Their proposals should be guided by the organization’s business objectives and strategic differentiators. Their performance should be judged by the measurable improvements realized. Their success requires overcoming obstacles, but their managers shouldn’t set them up for failure.

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